by Hannah Mary McKinnon

When Lucas Forester strolled up to me, insisting I write his story, the request was downright impossible to refuse. He’s charming, witty, and had such a compelling tale. This all happened in my head, of course. Lucas Forester isn’t real—he’s the main character in my sixth novel, Never Coming Home (MIRA, May 24, 2022) although he often felt like a proper person to me.

At the start of the book, Lucas is about to inherit a lot of money. His wealthy mother-in-law is dying, and his wife, Michelle, is missing—presumed dead. Lucas already knows Michelle’s never coming home because he hired a hitman on the dark web to get rid of her. All he needs to do is play the desperate, grieving husband and wait for the cash to roll in…

Wait—didn’t I say he’s charming and witty? Yes, but Lucas Forester is also a con artist, a liar, a thief, and a murderer, which was exactly why writing an entire novel from his point-of-view felt so fascinating. But how to go about telling the whole story from an evil person’s perspective and ensure my readers would come along for the ride? Being in a villain’s mindset can be disturbing and exhausting, and the last thing I wanted was for my audience to walk away.

If you’re thinking of exploring your antagonist’s voice, and giving them their very own point of view chapters, here are some tips and tricks I hope you’ll find useful:

Should they be the only point of view character?

Novels exclusively written from the antagonist’s point of view are rare, which makes them both intriguing to read and potentially difficult to write. Ask yourself if your character (like any other character) has the best voice to tell the story. Will there be enough intrigue with only one person’s perspective? Would giving your readers a break from all the evildoings by adding a protagonist’s chapters make sense?

For me, telling Never Coming Home from Lucas’s eyes was never up for debate. When he realizes (no spoiler, it’s on the back cover) that someone knows what he has done to Michelle, Lucas goes from cool, calm, and collected to panic and desperation. I wanted the reader to take that journey with him, discovering who’s hunting him as it unfolds. Adding a protagonist would’ve spoiled the fun.

Make them human and relatable

If your villain’s 100% evil they risk ending up cartoonish, bordering on ridiculous. Nobody in real life (minus a few exceptions) is exclusively bad all the time, and the trick is to have your audience understand why your character is the way they are. To do this, explore their backstory. Figure out what happened in your antagonist’s past that made them who they are. As a side note, I recommend doing this for all your point of view characters, good or bad, as it makes them far richer, realistic, human, and relatable.

For Lucas, his present was shaped by the death of his mother and sister, his desperately poor upbringing, and a devastating, life-altering incident with his father, for which Lucas blames himself. Readers might not like Lucas (although many have said they do), but they’ll understand where he’s coming from, both literally and figuratively, making them more inclined to want to know what happens to him next.

Give them a distinct, intriguing voice

This can be said for any point of view character, but I think it applies even more when writing the story from the antagonist’s angle. You need to work twice as hard to keep the reader on their side. You could do this by making them so cold and calculating, the reader can’t wait to see your antagonist (hopefully) get their just desserts. In Never Coming Home, I took a different approach by giving Lucas a wry, witty sense of humor. His internal dialogue is full of quips and one-liners intended make my audience chuckle, thus rendering Lucas—a murderer—almost endearing. I wanted to somehow get my readers to care about what happened to him, to nearly want him to get away with what he’d done. Making Lucas funny went a long way.

Save the cat

If you’ve read the book on screenwriting, Save the Cat by Blake Snyder, you’ll know exactly where I’m coming from. Snyder coined the phrase to describe that moment where the protagonist shows they’re worth cheering for, saying, “It’s the scene where we meet the hero and the hero does something—like saving a cat—that defines who he is and makes us, the audience, like him.”

I decided to take this advice literally in Never Coming Home and gave Lucas a dog, Roger, whom he saves from certain death after Michelle threatens to call animal control. Lucas might have a good amount of disdain for most of his fellow humans, but he loves Roger, so he can’t be that bad…right?

 Give them an enemy who’s even worse than they are

A simply yet effective trick. Giving your antagonist an enemy who’s threatening and pursuing them, and who’s even worse, makes their badness pale in comparison. If done well, your reader may find themselves rooting for the bad guy despite themselves, making the reading experience even better.

 Figure out if and how justice will be served

Most people would probably like to see your antagonist’s downfall but making it unclear whether it’ll happen right until the end (and providing an unexpected twist) will keep your reader guessing and hooked until the final page.

Study your favorite bad guys

There are so many to choose from. Here are a few I considered:

Tom Ripley in The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith
Paul Strom in Best Day Ever by Kaira Rouda
Amy and Nick Dunne in Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
Annie Wilkes in Misery by Stephen King
Joe Goldberg in You by Caroline Kepnes
Ramsey Bolton in Game of Thrones (TV series)
Ray in The Gentlemen (movie)

Writing Never Coming Home turned out to be one of my favorite experiences, during which I laughed more than when I’d worked on anything else. The points above helped immensely, and they’ll assist whenever I develop future characters, both good and bad—and I’ll definitely write another novel from the bad guy’s standpoint.

Have you written an antagonist’s story? How did you tackle it? What other aspects did you consider? Conversely, have you shied away from telling the baddie’s side, if so, why? Let’s talk about it on the Career Authors Facebook page!

Hannah Mary McKinnon was born in the UK, grew up in Switzerland and moved to Canada in 2010. After a successful career in IT recruitment, she quit the corporate world in favor of writing. While her debut, TIME AFTER TIME, was a rom com, she transitioned to the dark side thereafter. Her suspense novels include THE NEIGHBORS, and bestsellers HER SECRET SON, SISTER DEAR, YOU WILL REMEMBER ME, and NEVER COMING HOME. Hannah Mary lives in Oakville, Ontario, with her husband and three teenage sons.